Women Who Dig by Trina Moyles – Book Review by Carolyn Lee Boyd

Here in the north, it is harvest time when the deep and ancient relationship between women and farming once again brings forth the food on which life depends. Women have been co-creating with the Earth to feed themselves and their families and communities for many  thousands of years. In fact, the world’s oldest agricultural tool may be a 300,000 year old stick possibly used by women to “harvest wild tubers for food and medicine” (p. xx) according to Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism, and the Fight to Feed the World by Trina Moyles with photos by KJ Dakin. 

In her beautiful and enlightening book, Trina weaves together stories and stunning color photographs about the lives and work of women small farmers in Uganda, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the United States, Canada, India, the New Congo refugee settlement in Uganda, and Cuba. Together the profiles demonstrate that, despite sometimes overwhelming odds, women are feeding themselves, their families, and their communities through sustainable small farming practices that are good for both our nutrition and well being as well as the planet.

Women have had a special relationship to the Earth through agriculture for millennia. Many women in the book relate how they learned sustainable, successful agriculture from their mothers and grandmothers and are now reviving it to give life through food. Not surprisingly, many ancient goddesses from around the world are associated with agriculture — Brazil’s Aturuaródo, the Greek Ceres and Ino, the Aztec Chicomecóatl, the Tamil Muthumāriamman, Colombian Pachamama, Bengali Tushu, and the Yuma Warharmi, among others. Thus, the work of these women is creating another strand in women’s spiritual history to be uncovered and celebrated.

Woman in Uganda hoeing her plot of beans. Photo by Trina Moyles (c) 2018

This relationship between most of the profiled women farmers and the Earth is challenged by political, social, and economic forces. In southwest Uganda, the land the women work is almost always owned by their husbands due to both law and custom, resulting in a lack of financial security and the ability to farm the land as they choose. In Guatemala, Indigenous women are threatened by the usurpation of their ancestral land for mining. In the United States, undocumented farmworkers face the constant threat of deportation and do not receive adequate compensation. Women small farmers in India are challenged by climate change-induced drought and are unable to afford irrigation equipment, customs that ensure inherited land goes to sons, and unfair world trade policies. A war in Eastern Congo forces successful women farmers to abandon their land for tiny plots in refugee camps. Canadian women constantly face the attitude that only men are real farmers. Only the farmers in Cuba describe an environment where gender equality is consistently considered essential to effective agriculture.

Despite these barriers, the farmers survive, and sometimes thrive, especially by practicing agriculture outside of agribusiness models in both the production and distribution of their crops. Canadian women farmers, for example, are operating small organic farms that grow “niche” products, selling at farmer’s markets and along rural roads, starting CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture, where customers pay a fee in advance for their food), and operating urban farms on small pieces of vacant city spaces. A farmer in India, facing drought and whose growing of sacred grains is no longer profitable due to world trade agreements, now grows drought-resistant vegetables for sale locally and milks other farmers’ cows. In Cuba, a woman farmer turned a city garbage dump into a flowers and food farm by creating her soil from scratch.

The women also often work together to overcome these challenges, create community, and  make opportunities for leadership. One group in Uganda works their plots cooperatively and pools financial resources. In Guatemala farmers form women’s associations that provide agricultural training, jointly plant trees, and protest the mines. In Nicaragua, a woman works with a non-profit  teaching women farmers to grow food without chemicals and improve the soil. A Cuban urban farmer travels throughout Cuba and Venezuela teaching others about both organic farming and gender equality.

A farmer works a permaculture garden in Cuba. Photo by Trina Moyles (c) 2018

Women Who Dig highlights both the diversity of women farmers across the globe and how each forms her own relationship to the Earth based on circumstances and the ecology of the land she works. The women farmers often express the joy and sense of meaning they derive from farming. For some, farming makes them part of a long chain of women farmers across the generations, while creating new traditions to pass on to the next generation. For those who do not wish the hardships of farming on their daughters, their work offers a way to for them to educate their daughters so they will have better opportunities. The persistence of the women farmers in the face of the most harrowing obstacles is astonishing.

Often in Feminism and Religion we explore the relationship of humans and the Earth in all Her divinity. The women farmers in Women Who Dig experience this both practical and spiritual bond in a unique way, embodying every day the work of the goddesses of agriculture and countless generations of women farmers who make up so essential a part of our global women’s spiritual history and experience. I have given just a taste of the rich, passionate, inspiring stories of this book. It will change your perspective about the wonder of bringing forth nourishment and life from the Earth. It will enlighten you about the tremendous challenges facing women around the world who produce the food you eat. It will inspire you to get your own hands in the soil, whether you have a farm, a backyard, or a patio pot, and join these amazing women in the special bond between women and the Earth through farming.


Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, drummer, and herb and native plant gardener.  Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. She explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com,where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.

Photos by Trina Moyles (c) 2018 


Trina Moyles, Women Who Dig; Patricia Monaghan, The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines

Author: Carolyn Lee Boyd

Carolyn Lee Boyd’s essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. Her writing explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. In fact, she is currently writing a book on what ancient and contemporary cultures have to tell us about living in community in the 21st century. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com, where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.

7 thoughts on “Women Who Dig by Trina Moyles – Book Review by Carolyn Lee Boyd”

  1. It’s splendid to know that women are farming outside the Big Ag models and not despoiling the land but cherishing it. Thanks for reporting on this interesting book. Brightest blessings to the work of all the women farmers across the globe, to Trina Moyles, and to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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